Insiders

NFL AM: Josh Norman Free Agency Tour Begins in Washington

on

With just about a week left to go until the draft, it seemed as though the NFL’s free agency frenzy was long since over. Then along came the Josh Norman situation to throw everything into disarray. Now with just days to go before draft night, teams are clamoring to lock down the lockdown cornerback before they turn their attention to the draft.

First among those teams are the defending NFC East Champion Washington Redskins, who Norman will visit on Friday. It hasn’t been a great offseason for Washington, as they’ve done little to upgrade the team that won the East last season, then was rudely booted from the playoffs by the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round. The Redskins have instead spent the offseason retaining key players, and arguably their biggest move was the release of a quarterback who didn’t play a snap last year. But that could all change if they could reel in Norman.

The All-Pro corner is coming off by far the best season of his career, during which he established himself as one of the league’s truly elite coverage players, as well as one its most elite talkers. That would fit right in with Washington, where DeAngelo Hall still makes residence. But more importantly, Norman would be a tremendous upgrade for an already strong Redskins secondary. Bashaud Breeland emerged as a good No. 1 corner for Washington last season, but would be even better suited in a No. 2 role with Norman in place to lock down each team’s top target. The team could then slide Chris Culliver to the slot and create more depth in their defensive backfield.

It should be a fit from Norman’s perspective as well. The Panthers kind of hung the cornerback out to dry with the timing of their decision to rescind the franchise tag. Many of the teams that would have been in the market for a star cornerback in March already spent their money on lesser players. Janoris Jenkins got five years and $62.5 million from the Giants and Sean Smith got four years and $40 million for the Raiders, leaving fewer dance partners for Norman at the kind of elite price tag he should and will command.

Norman recently appointed a new agent, Ryan Williams of Athletes First, to lead his contract negotiations and it’s likely that the 28-year-old corner is seeking a contract in the neighborhood of the five-year, $70 million dollar deal signed by Darrelle Revis with the Jets last offseason. That contract included $39 million in guaranteed money. Considering Jenkins got only slightly less in terms of annual value and guaranteed money ($28.8 million), that seems like a reasonable place for Norman to land. But is there enough interest out there for Norman and Williams to leverage into a deal that big this late in the game?

According to reports, about a third of the league reached out to Norman’s representatives once the Panthers lifted the tag, but they all have varying degrees of remaining cap space. The San Francisco 49ers certainly do, after whiffing on the likes of Jenkins and Smith this offseason, they still have about $50 million to spend. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears also all have over $20 million left under the cap, but after appearing in a Super Bowl last season, does Norman really want to expose himself to the rebuilding scenarios each of those teams are going through?

Though the 49ers have reportedly emerged as a favorite along with the Redskins, things are especially dire in San Francisco, where the roster is a mess and a new regime is taking over. It could be several years before the 49ers are successful again. They’d likely have to blow Norman away with a contract making him the highest paid corner in NFL history to get him to sign.

Washington on the other hand offers an immediate opportunity to compete for the postseason — and face is new rival Odell Beckham Jr. twice a year, too — but is in the middle tier among teams with leftover cap space. They’re currently nearly $12 million under the cap and could likely move around some other allocated money or structure Norman’s contract in a way to get him up near where he wants to be. But knowing they are one of the only teams that both has money and can present a chance to be on a competitive team, how high would they be inclined to bid?

One point Norman could use for leverage is a potential willingness to take a one-year deal similar to what he was going to play under with the franchise tag for the Panthers and then test the market again next offseason when he’d have a full range of suitors with full wallets. It seems unlikely he’d take the risk on himself, but it’s at least a care he could play in negotiations to bring in more suitors this year and drive up his price.

His visit to Washington on Friday is the first stop in what could be a whirlwind week for the sudden surprise gem of the 2016 free agent market. It would behoove both Norman and whichever team is going to sign him to get it done before the draft, as to avoid complications that could carry this thing into May and toward mini-camp. so expect this to play out pretty fast.

NO MOVEMENT ON KAP

While the 49ers begin trying to woo Norman into their messy situation somehow, the repeated efforts of another franchise to woo Colin Kaepernick away from San Francisco continue to go unanswered.

Denver Broncos general manager John Elway met with the media on Thursday and noted his team’s continued interest in the former 49ers Super Bowl starter and referenced a standing offer, but said there hasn’t been movement on that front in some time. The Broncos still want and need Kaepernick to take a significant pay cut to make a move work, something he has balked at since rumors arose in early March. Elway said it wouldn’t take much time to get it done if the talks reignited, but right now that doesn’t appear to be close to happening.

“Everything’s right there,” Elway said. “[But] it’s dormant. He’s been working out from what I understand, so, that’s all I can say about it.”

Meanwhile, the Broncos remain stuck with a quarterback depth chart that is topped by Mark Sanchez followed by Trevor Siemian, a less than desirable state of affairs for the defending Super Bowl Champions as the draft approaches. With the Eagles trade up to the No. 2 spot in the draft to target a quarterback, it seems more and more unlikely that a top tier quarterback will be there when the Broncos pick at No. 31. In fact, with Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook gaining steam in the wake of the Philly trade, there could be four quarterbacks already off the board when Denver picks.

The team continues to show interest in recently released Brian Hoyer, who visited Denver this week, but wasn’t in any hurry to lock the journeyman quarterback into a competition with Mark Sanchez that would produce a less than desirable result wither way. Elway continues to tout his options as this drags on but nobody’s buying what he’s selling.

“We’re happy with Mark. Mark’s excited about being here. We’re excited about having him,” Elway said, before referencing Hoyer. “It’s a possibility. He’s a good football player. We wanted to have him in, meet him and get to know him a little bit. But nothing to report there…. He had a real good year in Houston last year, so he’s a guy who’s a real possibility with us.”

It still seems like the best move is Kaepernick and with draft picks in play as likely compensation, you’d think this thing would have to heat up in the next week or wind up dead. The quarterback situation of the Super Bowl champs has been one of the strangest stories of the 2016 offseason and with no palatable resolution in sight, it may get even weirder before it’s resolved.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys